German Federal Elections
On September 24th, citizens of Europe’s largest economy will cast their votes for Germany’s 19th Federal Election. Neatly summarized by His Excellency Christoph Israng, German Ambassador to the Czech Republic, the election decides the composition of the German Bundestag, and in turn, this determines the next German Chancellor, a position which has been held by Angela Merkel since 2005. As both outcomes will influence future European economic and social courses, the progress of the election is being closely followed and the eventual result extensively speculated.
Germany seems to lack the dramatic suspense that defined elections in the USA and Europe. Pre-electoral polls suggest that Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will once again come out on top. However, its support has weakened and it seems as though another coalition may have to be formed. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), who has been ruling alongside the CDU in a Grand Coalition since 2013, seem to be holding on at second place. As His Excellency Mr. Israng explains, the outcome becomes more uncertain further down. The Left, Green, Free Democratic Party (FDP), and Alternative for Germany (AfD) are all fiercely competing for third place, but it is unlikely that the radical far-right (AfD) and far-left (the Left) will be part of a new government. Instead, the most plausible coalition on the basis of current polls is, besides a return to the Grand Coalition, for the CDU/CSU to align themselves with the Green party and the liberal FDP, also called the “Jamaican coalition” after the parties’ colours. However, many parties remain reluctant to enter a coalition with the fear of having to accept unpopular policies that might lose them electorate in the future, as Mr. Dr. Berthold Franke, Director and Project Director for Central and Eastern Europe, Goethe Institute notes.
The focus of the campaign has been partly orchestrated by the CDU, namely by its leader Ms. Merkel, using a strategy known as “asymmetric demobilization”. Dr. Franke states that this essentially takes public attention away from issues which could empower the party’s opponents. For instance, Merkel recently allowed a free vote on same-sex marriage to be held in the Bundestag. Despite disagreeing with the cause herself and casting a red ballot, by paving the way for the vote, she ultimately prevented the Greens from branding themselves with a popular issue in the upcoming election.
Nevertheless, although Ms. Merkel has tactfully avoided controversial issues such as nuclear power, refugees, and certain EU reforms, these will become topical once the election has passed. EU issues of redistribution and enlargement might be particularly unpopular as they are likely to cause greater financial and bureaucratic burdens. Germany has for the moment “taken a painkiller” as Dr. Doering, Project Director for Central Europe and the Baltic States, Friedrich Naumann Foundation, puts it, but the country must face these painful issues eventually. In France, Marcon is waiting for the next German government to present EU reforms. This is a concern for some parties. If in government, the FDP could be forced to accept French positions on austerity, which would likely be unwelcomed at their support base, making governance at this stage possibly an expensive practice.
The central controversies have also included the depletion of Martin Schulz’s momentum in his campaign, which has led to his party members advising him to step down. Viewed by many as a charismatic leader and an outsider to the political establishment, Mr. Schulz was considered to be a serious threat to Ms. Merkel. This threat has now largely faded, as the SPD faces deeper and long-lasting structural problems. The shared solidarity between working class and bourgeoisie that the SPD’s electorate was built upon, has largely waned, being split between the business-friendly centre-left and radical protest parties such as the AfD, as Dr. Doering explains.
With regards to the future, foreign policy is likely to remain much under the status quo. Although Merkel will consider the embargoes on Russia and keep a channel of negotiation open with Turkey, His Excellency Mr. Israng expects no radical change on these issues. A government under Angela Merkel is therefore likely to expect a great deal of continuity with few major reforms to be undertaken unless needed to. Dr. Doering points out that the stability that Germany has prospered under is not in fact Merkel’s doing and may come to an end, thus calling for more than just ad hoc solutions. Merkel’s legacy will depend on her ability to deliver these or not. Dr. Franke emphasizes that the issues we face today are generational problems, and in the future, we will have to expect many crises that will endanger liberty and freedom. To this, Dr. Qvortrup, Political Scientist at Center for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, is quick to add that a crisis has another meaning: a turning point. It appears as though this is exactly what Germany will need.